Showing posts with label holidays. Show all posts
Showing posts with label holidays. Show all posts

cumberland house

Despite all the reasons I give him not to, my friend Cameron still tolerates me. Despite my flakiness, my selfishness, my inability to ever match what he puts in - his friendship is constant.

Do you want to know what he gave me for Christmas? It's pretty amazing. He found one of the few untarnished memories I have of my childhood, boxed it up, and sent it to me so that I could experience it again, with more visceral force than I could about handle.

We were talking one night in early December when we discovered a commonality between our mothers: an obsession with Department 56 collectible villages. This was my mom's big thing, back in the day. Every year she would buy a house, or a church--the post office, or the city hall. And the accessories. Miniature Rockwellian people, frozen in friendly ceramic smiles and stiff-armed waves. Tiny glowing street lights and spiky plastic trees. Shredded white wax paper for snow. Everything was wired with lights, making for a cozy, twinkling little town to be gazed at over a cup of cocoa.

My mother battled depression and alcoholism, mostly losing. This made her unavailable, to say the least. But something about the holidays brought out her best, most loving self. She'd take me to the craft store for felt and pipe cleaners, glitter and pom poms. We'd sit cross-legged at the coffee table well past my bedtime, designing schlocky ornaments to hang proudly on the tree.

All this to say that when I think of my mom at Christmastime, the darkness with which I associate her recedes, and I see her at her warmest and brightest. I loved my mother most at the holidays, and I felt her love strongest.

When Cameron and I realized our Department 56 connection, we compared notes. I told him that I'd never forget my favorite piece: the New English-sounding Cumberland House. It was a two-story Colonial with a sloping brick roof and double chimneys. Spearmint green boughs adorned four majestic columns and a string of colored lights dipped down to side-by-side wreaths. It was a masterpiece of symmetry, an aesthetic which by then I already loved.

You know where this story is going, of course.

Cameron looked online, and found quite a few Cumberland Houses for sale. None of them would have reached me in time for Christmas, though. (What he really wanted to do was show up at my door with one, but that wasn't feasible this year.) On the 23rd, he happened to look on Craigslist Los Angeles. There was exactly one Department 56 piece for sale. It was a Cumberland House.

He reached out to the woman selling it and explained his shipping/timing predicament. Wondrously, generously, she agreed to wrap it and drive it from North Ridge down to LA and deliver it to me at work--on Christmas Eve.

One of the best parts of the whole thing was the reaction of my coworkers. Everyone was super intrigued by the little dragon label on it (an inside joke of ours), and impressed by the size of the box. And I felt pretty fucking special getting a special delivery. I was utterly clueless as to what it could be, and stared at it curiously on the train ride home.



And then when I did open it, well. I told him it was like unwrapping a lightning bolt. I actually cried out.



I wish my mom could have seen that moment, could have witnessed me experiencing an emotion thirty years in the making. But then that's why it's so important to cherish the ones we still have, while we have them, right?



And that's something I certainly didn't appreciate, thirty years ago.

Mendocino

(last installment of Thanksgiving '16)

Saturday's rain maroons us perpendicular on the sectional, him with a book and me with my laptop. Every so often we glance out the window to see if the weather has cleared. It hasn't. We head outdoors anyway, Timo laughing when I push my furry hood back and let the rain pummel my face and hair. I know I look like a drowned rat, but the fresh air feels too good.

We hike up into the acreage behind the house, mindful of property lines. The people living around here value privacy and are armed, I suspect, to prove it. A tree trunk bridging a roily creek is an invitation I can't resist, even though my heart pounds faster as I inch across it than I'd like to admit. From the safety of other side I watch Timo take equally careful steps. We plunge further into the wilderness, crashing through puddles in waterproof footwear.

It's too wet out, though, and too cold. Defeated, we retreat back to the dry, warm living room. The furnace snaps and pops and, armed with snacks, we watch a movie. Timo tries graham crackers for the first time.

Sunday's promise of a clearer day holds, and we take the forty-five minute drive to the coast slowly. Branscombe Road lets us out at the spectacular cliffs just north of Westport, and we stop time and again for photos of the picturesque sea stacks being washed over by waves.

Following the Shoreline Highway leads us through a series of blink-and-you'll-miss-them towns, until we hit Fort Bragg for lunch. At a friendly dockside shanty of a restaurant, we wave seagulls away from our fish and chips and talk about the weekend. I get buzzed on a pomegranate cider, which warms my body but not my icicle-cold hands. Those, Timo invites me to warm on his neck.

With not too much daylight left, we're back on the road to Mendocino. Past the Jug Handle Reserve and Caspar, a sign for the Point Cabrillo Light Station beckons. Timo's game, having never been, and we walk the half mile to the water's edge with linked arms. I'm still merry from the cider; he's delighted with how much I'm loving the landscape he hoped I would.

All the outbuildings in the lighthouse complex are painted in coordinating colors of cherry and seafoam, with brown trim. They are beautifully maintained, cheerfully bright structures that stand in defiance of the drab, grey ocean behind them. We take our time ambling along the headland's curve, and I relax into taking as many photos as I please.

We reach Mendocino just as it's getting dark, making a quick round of the streets along the coast and the main drag. It's a place I could amble through, gallery by gallery and shop by shop.

Maybe another year.

Either way, Thanksgiving '16 gave me quite a lot of awesome to file away in the memory banks. Hope yours did, too.

























north towards Eureka

(continued from here)

On the day after Thanksgiving, we find perfect. Rather, we make it. We carve it out, hour by hour, along the two-lane highway heading north toward Eureka. Avenue of the Giants Scenic Byway. I am selfishly thrilled to have him all to myself for the day. One hand stroking the back of his neck while he drives, the other on the playlist running through my phone.

Townships tick by. Mostly quiet, we absorb the majesty of our surroundings. Towering redwoods, rivulets that fill out to creeks that suddenly become the latte-colored Eel River. Criss-crossing it through Phillipsville, Miranda, Myers Flat. Every roadside tourist trap inducing us with the promise of cornball laughs. Chainsaw Carvings. Drive-through Tree, Five Dollars. We buy buffalo jerky from a manic-seeming local whose warp speed spiel (Alrightyfolksletmejusttellyoualittlebitaboutourjerkiesgoaheadandusethetoothpicktospearyourselfapiecenowgoaheadandturnthattoothpickaroundthatsitjustlikethat) lends itself to a Kate McKinnon character. I consult a map.

"Would you rather see the Immortal Tree or the Eternal Tree?"

"Immortal, probably."

"Would you rather be immortal or eternal?"

"Eternal, definitely."

The rain flushes most of the traffic from the road. When other cars do stack up behind us, Timo pulls over to let them pass. We just want to cruise, just want to take our time.

We wonder aloud about the sorts of people that live out here, and how many inhabitants it takes to make a town, anyway. We joke about murder-y looking motels, which triggers Timo to tell stories about backpacking through Australia and New Zealand. I press my face against the window, watching the tops of trees whiz by.

In a turnoff somewhere along the state reserve route, we grab hats from the backseat and climb out into a strikingly silent grove. My rain boots sink into a forest floor of soaking pine needles, and Timo withdraws hands from warm pockets to pull me up beside him. On the ageless carcass of a fallen sequoia we survey the grove. The afternoon has brought just the right amount of rain, which we're mostly protected from anyway, under the canopy. There's something sacred about the space, the isolation and quiet. We take advantage of it, feeling brazen in the lush, wet wilderness, despite being so close to the road.

Later, stopping for snacks at a grocery store in a Stepford-esque sawmill town, I get the creeps. Something about the hollow way the music drifts down the aisles. The tinny, sad echo of it, getting lost among banks of fluorescent lights lining a disproportionately high ceiling. Everything and everyone seems cold and stale.

"Let's go," I say edgily, garnering a curious look from Timo. After we pay the dead-eyed teenage cashier for a bag of potato chips, I try to explain my unease. "It just feels like a place time has forgotten. But for circumstance, I could be here, living here, shopping here."

"Don't move here, and you won't live here," he replies in his problem-solved tone.

We play questions on the way home - his lighthearted and forgettable, mine studied and serious. I practice the art of not reading too much into his answers.

Back at the house, he fixes us plates of leftovers, cubing the roast pork and frying the mashed potatoes in little pancakes. He joins the others in front of the TV, and I drift away to the bedroom to blog. A huge, unbroken chunk of time for me just to write, and for him just to read, watch movies, and hang out.

We agree it's a pretty perfect ending to a pretty perfect day.










layers

(continued from yesterday)

Thanksgiving morning is grey and damp and still. A blissful lack of street noise, of constantly rushing traffic outside my window. I am always embarrassed by how late I sleep in other people's homes. But Timo's right there with me, and it's nearly eleven before we stretch and yawn and wish one another a happy Thanksgiving.

Cooking smells permeate the house. Roast pork and pumpkin squash soup. Stewed cabbage, broccoli and hollandaise, mashed potatoes and gravy. I poke around the living room, examining tchotchkes and souvenirs, peering into the tiny framed faces of loved ones I'll meet later today. A passionate devotee of Native American culture lives here. Dozens of dream catchers adorn the walls. Feathered brushes for sage ceremonies, instruments of horn and skin and bone. Beaded drums, woven blankets, paintings full of tribal imagery. Bear claws and eagles.

We explore the bosky grounds. I'm enthralled by how wet and green everything is. Moss wrapped trees with dripping branches. Reedy ponds sheltering toads I can hear but can't see. A carpet of soggy leaves underfoot, flecked with spongy yellow mushrooms. Following a road storied with Timo's teenage experiences leads us to the fenced-in pastures of other rural loners. In one, a curious horse ambles over when we cluck an invitation, carefully extending our arms across the barbed wire. His mane is matted and his flank is filthy; our hands are black when we finally leave off petting him ten minutes later. We promise to return tomorrow with apples.

I am given a tour of the cannabis garden above the house. It's a completely legal operation; a dated, signed permit hangs in a sheet protector on the tool shed beside. In the shed, massive plastic bins keep the harvested buds, still in need of trimming, safe from the mold and cold. Overhead are parallel lines of cord, hung with bunches of colorful wire hangers--all empty. This is where the plants, earlier in the season, hang to dry.

Near the empty garden is a mound of discarded bamboo shoots, used for staking the plants. I enjoy the thought that even wicked things need support to grow properly. I'm told about the technique of light deprivation: shrouding the crop in the darkness of tarps to trick it into thinking it's later in the season than it really is.I enjoy the thought of this as well, and try to explain to Timo why. "The idea of applying some artificial means of...whatever. Speeding things up. Getting to the end game faster." I don't know what end game I mean, though.

Guests begin to arrive, and the house fills with the cheerful sounds of introductions, reunions, gift-giving, glass-pouring. I hover at the edge of conversations, trying not to be underfoot as tables are brought in, seating rearranged. I spend entirely too long wiping down some folding chairs, just to have something to do.

Dinner. Talk of travel, politics, the career achievements of the past year. I nurse my glass of local Chardonnay, watching strange faces laugh as they uncover commonalities, disclose relatable moments.

Later: backgammon, homemade quince liqueur, and naps on the couch. I excuse myself to make calls, send texts. The feeling of wanting to belong to something is like a blade at my throat. Being included in a day like today is the ultimate paradox: it only makes it worse. Everyone is lovely and welcoming, of course. It doesn't matter. My walls are three feet thick.

When everyone has gone home, Timo shuts off the outside lights so we can see the stars. At the edge of the yard he holds me and we tip our heads back. "I've seen some incredible Milky Ways here," he says.

I tell him this is a moment we'll enjoy in layers. "Right now, then again later as we fall asleep, then however often we'd like in the months to come, remembering it."

I know this is true, because it's like others I've had--while being completely unique at the same time.







everything coming up

It's the day before Thanksgiving, and the metaphors are everywhere. I don't even have to look for them anymore. The universe just hands them to me on a silver platter, monogrammed with my initials. It allows that this is my talent, for better or for worse: finding meaning in the vagaries of an indifferent world. And it provides me with plenty of material. Here, Ellie. Be of use. Amuse someone, even if it's just yourself. 

We're driving up the PCH, having cut over to the coast just north of San Francisco. Just for an hour or two. Just so long as we have daylight to take in the views. Then we'll snake back inland, pick up the 101, finish the haul up to Mendocino County where our host for the weekend lives. A second family of his, of sorts. They'll greet us, along with two bounding, barking dogs, in the frosty driveway. Usher us with hugs and handshakes into the home where Timo spent a year of high school.

But right now we're on the road. Six days off from work. We sandwiched the holiday with vacation time. My first official RTO at the new job. It's a big deal to me, to be here with him, to enjoy this trip guilt-free, because I have work to return to afterward. It's a big deal for other reasons, too.

Muir Beach. Stinson Beach. The marshy wetlands of Bolinas Lagoon. At some point we stop saying "Oh wow", stop craning our necks out the window, and actually pull over at the vistas. The windswept cliffs of Point Reyes. The clay blue cottages of Nick's Cove. I say something banal, about that blue. How you couldn't buy it, you couldn't ever find that perfectly faded shade even if you thumbed through a hundred paint chips at the hardware store. Wabi sabi. I have to believe in wabi sabi.

"Yell if you want to stop," he says, and sometimes I do. Then I spring from the rental car, retracing the twenty or thirty yards needed to get whatever shot it was I saw. It feels weird. I'm out of practice. I miss Instagram, on days like this.

When he comments on the barges dotting the horizon I have an excuse to use one of my favorite phrases. "In the offing," I say, smiling at him. He loves learning new English words. "That's what they call it, where it drops off from view. Literally it refers to the farthest you can see out into the ocean but it's a great metaphor for something in the future you can just barely make the shape of." The words hardly get out of my mouth before I realize their import. To me, anyway. Skirting the conversation I've boxed him into half a dozen times already. The one about where his future diverges from mine, or doesn't. The one about work visas and homesicknesses and job placements that weren't supposed to last as long as they have.

I'd bite my tongue but I know I'm safe. He hasn't heard the subtext of my words. He's not afflicted with the same "talent" I am. He's just happy to be here. It's one of the things I love about him. He rarely overthinks.

We stop for bottled water, and to stretch our legs. An outdoor coffee stand attached to the general store catches our eye. It's a long drive still. Caffeine might be a good idea. The wiry barista who makes Timo's latte speaks with a vague accent; we'll agree afterward that he's French, that an interesting story must have landed him in this tiny seaside town. When I throw down four bucks for a three dollar drink the Frenchman rings a little bell. "We do that for good tips," he winks at me, though I don't see anyone else around to constitute a "we." Handing over the cup he nods his traveler's benediction. "Enjoy everything coming up."

I write this down, word for word, in the notepad on my phone. Enjoy everything coming up. 

A few minutes later and my recent sleeplessness hits like a wave. I cannot stay awake and keep Timo company for the remaining drive, even though I know I should. Even though I know he would. I am positively wiped, physically and emotionally. In the past two months I have started two restaurant jobs and quit one. I have taken on three freelance writing gigs, started and then stopped an assistant position in Beverly Hills, broken the lease on my apartment and signed the lease on a new one. I am finally settling into something resembling routine and stability--or at least I will once I've moved. This is the first I've felt I can really relax in a long, long time.

The best I can do is change the music I've been playing through my phone to a podcast for him. Snippets of it invade my dreams. TED Radio Hour. Something about love, about the kinds of partners various personality types seek. I'll bring it up later, because of course I will. This time Timo will know exactly what I'm talking about. He'll have honed in on the same part, maybe thinking the same thing I am: We sought and found our opposites. Isn't it lovely? But not exact opposites, you know. In some ways we are so similar. And that's lovely, too.

(I'll say all of this in a state of exhaustion, curled up next to him in our bed for the next five nights. Even in the dark I know his expression. The half-smile that means he's listening, accepting, but not necessarily agreeing or endorsing. It's okay. The listening and accepting are enough.)

Two cattle grids in quick succession jar me awake. "We're here," he says, carefully navigating a starlit, gravelly country road. I feel groggy, puffy and gritty from travel. I blink, getting my bearings. An expansive yard, raking sharply down to where we drive. Trees bedecked with string lights. Wire form animals, also strung with bulbs. Colored icicle lights crowning a house the details of which I can't make out yet, in the dark and in my punch-drowsy state. A pair of German Shepherds herd us up the driveway, barking in welcome or warning or both. They know Timo. They don't know me, the holiday interloper.

The cold when we emerge from the car is biting but not bitter. I hang back, pulling on my coat while Timo greets his host mom and the man whose exact title in this domestic arrangement is unclear. Roommate? Caretaker? Companion? Even Timo doesn't know how to explain their relationship, which while long-running has never been romantic. Friends. Co-inhabitants. Whatever. It's working for them. This is a happy home, that much is obvious immediately. I am not spared any of the effusiveness Timo's return has generated. Hugs for me, too. We go inside. The dogs stay outside.

An hour of catching up, reconnecting. Polite inquiries about the generalities of my life. I am bleary, but trying to be bright. It's unnecessary, though. These are easygoing people. Relaxed, ready to like anyone those they love present to them. And they love Timo. His host mom is lit with excitement at his arrival. She peppers him with questions about his work, his family, his life in LA. I sit beside him on the sectional, chiming in when I can, smiling quietly when I can't. Heat from the furnace is pushing me back towards sleep. Tomorrow will be tough, I know. I'll miss my family and my friends. Voices in my head will attack me, tell me I deserve the loneliness I'll feel despite sitting at a cheerful, packed table. I'll wonder whether I shouldn't have stayed home, rather than foist myself on yet another unsuspecting family.

But I was invited.

I retire before Timo, who stays up to talk, laugh, reminisce. He snuggles up to me a little while later, giggly and high and sleepy. "I'm so happy you're here with me," he whispers. "I'm so happy to share this place with you. I can't wait for you to see how beautiful it is."

As always, as has not yet ceased to amaze me, the sleep I share with him is the most restful I've had with any man, ever. No tossing or turning. No feeling crowded, even when when our limbs tangle. He is the only one I can say this about.

I count it as a something to be very thankful for.








since we finished

Back to back beach days this long weekend. Venice today and Manhattan Beach yesterday. Yep, we spent Valentine's Day together. We just sort of tacitly agreed to, without acknowledging the occasion.

"Weather's supposed to be incredible Sunday. Want to go to Laguna or something?"

"Hell yes. That sounds wonderful." For one thing, if I don't make a point of getting out of downtown, well, I don't get out of downtown. For another, we still have fun together. That's undeniable. And while having fun with your ex might be a bad idea, as far as I know it's still legal.

Sunday came and we got a late start, ending up in Manhattan Beach instead. We found street parking a few blocks above the water just as the sun began to hang. Terence waved me ahead, indulgent and smiling, shouldering a tote stuffed with hoodies we'd be glad for later. I bounded down to the pier, conscious as always of the crinkly feel of the bones in my left foot. It broke, it healed; I swear it still crunches, though. A small bank of photographers and lovers--and lover-photographers--had staked out spots along the shoreline and were firing off shot after shot of the waves crashing against the dock. I crouched down out of the way, a bit to the side. I'd come later than everyone else. Prime real estate wasn't mine to claim today.

The next five minutes felt solemn. I grinned at a white-haired woman who glanced my way, carefully backtracking in the sand to get a better view. Her camera had a massive, glossy black lens that I could see myself in when she faced me. "This light, right?" I shook my head to indicate amazement, awe. Respect, too, as I suspected this was her turf. But she just gave me a tight-lipped nod. No chatting at Manhattan Pier at sunset. Got it.

When I'd gotten my fill of the pier, I joined Terence at the water's edge. We watched children scramble in the sand, screaming as the foamy waves caught their ankles. I tried to angle them out of the photos I took, but there were too many. Tiny silhouettes, drunk with sunshine and play. We watched the horizon bloom and took pictures that we didn't show one another. We sent texts to friends and family that we didn't share. I noticed him writing a poem in his phone's notepad; I didn't ask to read it. But after we'd rinsed the sand off our feet, we strolled the length of the pier arm in arm and felt as companionable and relaxed as every other couple we passed.

A lone surfer bobbed on mild, rolling waves near the pier's south side. Mostly he floated, paddling into or against the waves as necessary to maintain his position. But every tenth wave or so, the gathering swell apparently promised to deliver the momentum he needed, and he worked his board alongside it. Nothing much doing, though. He just sort of coasted inland a bit, then paddled back out again. Later than night, long after Terence had fallen asleep and I couldn't, I followed a couple of surfing accounts on Instagram. An entirely foreign world that fascinates me. The crush and curl of the wave just before it collapses. The fearlessness and balance. The lush, sunny, aquamarine cool of it all.

The sun died spectacularly. Lovers paired up along the railing took selfies, giggling as they adjusted themselves to frame the streaks of pink and blue over their shoulders. Other just clung to one another and watched. We did a little of both. I curled my fingers into a heart shape, but when Terence tried to snap a photo of the sunset behind them, I couldn't get my pinkies lifted the right away, and my heart was squat and broken. A job for Photoshop and a metaphor I won't touch. When we switched places, on the other hand, Terence's heart was full and perfect. Oh, did you believe me when I said I wouldn't touch that metaphor?

We got dinner on a quiet stretch a few blocks from the crowded boardwalk. Oversized meatballs with pomodoro sauce and micro basil; ahi tuna wontons with wasabi crema. I ordered a cider and Terence had wine. We teetered back into the night full and tipsy and dangerously happy. We made a dumb Vine video that had us in stitches. We put on our sweatshirts and pulled the hoods up for one another. We got ice cream and a frosted cookie the size of Terence's hand. We laughed and bickered and window-shopped our way back to the pier, now fogged over and cold. At the end of it, we huddled and spoke in hushed tones, honoring the mood or the moment or maybe just not daring to be loud in our joy. We gazed out at the offing and wondered about the deep, dark water. We braced ourselves for the intermittent shuddering of the dock as thunderous waves smashed into it. It was the closest we've been to where we started, since we finished.

We stalled going home, but eventually we did. And when we woke up, since Terence had the day off and I myself am on hold for several weeks while a piece of equipment I need is customized (I will explain soon, I prooooomise), we decided to go do it again.

I checked: definitely not illegal.




pseudo whorl

needles in elevators
green, dry, sweet-smelling
detritus of Christmas past

MMXV!

I dread the first of January. It always feels like the first day of a class I'm not sure I should be in. Didn't exactly ace the prerequisites. Don't know that I'm qualified to move ahead. So while everyone else is fresh-faced and eager, I'm chewing my pencil, avoiding eye contact. Sooner or later I'll be found out: I have no idea what I'm doing.

I've learned to keep my New Year's resolutions to myself. Once I share them, they start ticking like a countdown - how long until I fail? If I keep them quietly, the self-admonishments when I stumble can be quieter, too. It's okay. No one knows you dropped the ball. Just pick it back up. We'll keep this between us. 

If you're charging into the new year with guns blazing, right on. Pass me some of that confidence in a high five, will you? But if you've got to bluff it for a while until you get your bearings, come sit with me in the back. I've got extra pencils.

The last bits of my MMXV:
Some things never change. (Talking about my claw hand, of course.)
Supermoon viewing. I didn't blog these pictures before because this was the night I knew Terence and I were Donesville. They make me a little sad because of that, but seeing downtown all tiny off in the distance reminds me how insignificant my problems are.

Urban scrawl: so much prettier at night.
Clifton's has become my new favorite spot downtown. Cavernous, quirky, cozy, and chill. Plus they serve the best White Russian you've ever had. 
We agreed that either we both get facelifts or neither of us does.
An optimistic moment.
My thinking place. Three blocks up, one block over. I can sit beside the water and gaze at the city and just be blurry for a little while.
Terrible picture but a great moment, molesting balloons last night with Krista.

He said he's never veld this way before. Safari's just talk, though.
He always get a little pouty after he guts a toy and realizes he now has one less toy.
"You know I'm color blind, right? You can stop buying them in fancy colors."
Last night at The Belasco downtown. For the first time in my life I wore flat shoes on New Year's Eve, so I could actually dance. I'll never go back. 
Truly fantastic music, with multiple rooms to choose from. A+, would return next year for sure.
Big dogs need big trees.
Selfie queens to the end.